Rochester United's Tony Nassar (middle) brakes in on Dakota's goalie Anthony Benvenuti after Nassar broke through the defense in the second period Monday night. Benvenuti made the save on the play. (Special to The Oakland Press/NICHOLAS BARRY)
Rochester United goalie Kyler Patenaude blocks Dakota's Ronald O'Connor's shot as O'Connor Monday. (Special to The Oakland Press/NICHOLAS BARRY)
Matt Riehl had just scored the biggest goal of Dakota’s season, and he wasn’t even sure it went in.
The junior forward launched a shot past Rochester United goalie Kyler Patenaude just 1:28 into overtime, propelling the Cougars into the second round of the playoffs with a 4-3 win at Mount Clemens Ice Arena on Monday.
“I took it down the right side and cut to the middle,” Riehl explained. “I put one low, hoping for a rebound. It hit the post and went in. I didn’t even know. But, I’ll take it.”
Dakota (21-5 overall) needed a late comeback to force overtime against a very sound Rochester (16-8-2) team. The Cougars will take on Eisenhower (20-4-1) in a pre-regional final on Wednesday.
Riehl said he is expecting the next playoff game – which pits the MAC Red co-champs against each other for the third time this year – to be very intense.
“It’s going to be a good one,” Riehl said. “Hopefully, we can get another victory. I’m pretty confident that we can.”
Riehl finished the game with a pair of goals; junior teammates Austin Azzopardi and Paul Andary also scored.
Senior goalie Anthony Benvenuti finished with 27 saves for Dakota; counterpart Patenaude stopped 40.
Kevin Kurzeja, Ryan Bradley and Tony Nassar scored for Rochester. Star defenseman Mike Pelino, easily one of the OAA’s best offensive players, mustered a single assist. That was in no small part due to the fantastic checking of Cougars senior forward Chad Roskelly. Though his contribution will not be recognized in statistical form, Roskelly’s defensive effort was complemented by head coach Mike Jakubik.
“Chad was just the heart and soul out there,” Jakubik said. “He stayed on (Pelino), and kept slowing him down. Making contributions like that is just as important as getting goals.”
After applying massive pressure throughout the third period, in which it outshot its opponent by a 19-4 margin, Dakota received the heroics it needed to tie the game late – courtesy of Andary.
The play that allowed the Cougars to tie the game began with a shot, which Patenaude turned aside. What ensued, however, was a wild goalmouth scramble. With bodies and sticks flying, Andary somehow chipped the puck up and over Patenaude, tying the game at 3-3 with 4:37 remaining in the third period. Senior forward Billy Karvounis and senior defenseman Shawn Eastman drew assists on the dramatic tying goal.
Jakubik believed the comeback had everything to do with effort.
“We kept the constant pressure on them, and finally capitalized on a rebound,” Jakubik said. “Basically, it just came down to them playing as a team and working hard.”
Dakota almost took the lead with 1:35 left. Riehl tried a nearside shot that Patenaude barely kept from crossing the goal line with his left leg pad.
Both teams displayed potent offenses in the second period. Rochester emerged with a 3-2 advantage after the second frame, thanks to a pair of power play goals.
At 7:15, Bradley fired a shot from a strange angle, which beat Benevenuti on the far side, with the power play marker bumping the score to 2-1 in Rochester’s favor.
The Cougars came roaring back less than a minute later.
Senior forward Mark Degrande fired a shot, and the rebound kicked right out to Azzopardi, who batted it in at 6:22, and temporarily tying the game at 2-2.
Rochester got a late power play goal from Nassar with 1:27 left in the frame. Pelino fired a low shot from the point, which Nassar tipped home for the 3-2 advantage.
Dakota began the game asserting itself physically. The Cougars forecheckers threw several big hits within the first few minutes of play.
Relentless effort paid off in the form of the contest’s first goal.
Senior defenseman Brad Schornak fired a shot from the point, which was turned aside by Patenaude. The goalie could not, however, corral the rebound. Riehl was there to slam it home at 9:21.
The 1-0 Cougars lead lasted about six minutes.
In the waning seconds of a power play, Kurzeja let got a slap shot from just inside the blue line. The puck appeared to shoot underneath Benvenuti’s right arm and in at 2:59.
Dakota held a 14-11 shots on goal advantage after 17 minutes of play, with both teams enjoying its fair share of quality chances. The score was knotted at 1-1 after the first.
Eisenhower and Dakota have met twice this season, with each team claiming one victory. By splitting those games, the school’s shared the Red crown. Wednesday’s rubber match will have a lot more on the line.
Jakubik would like to see the positive emotions from Monday continue.
“I’m hoping we can carry this momentum into the game,” Jakubik said. “That was the one positive about not having a (first round) bye. It’s just nice that it’s at our place.”